This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Mr. Downing: Having, since the commencement of your Horticulturist, derived from it many valuable hints for the culture of plants, I will hazard giving you a history of an experiment made by me in this city, in hopes I may in some measure reciprocate. In October, 1849,1 commenced my house, number 1 Madison Square, north, and after the roof was on, say June, I860, I hired an old gardener to prepare my lot for a garden, in my own way. It was only after much conversation, that I could persuade him to follow my directions; and after consulting some of his fellow gardeners, who had heard that I knew something of Horticulture, and finding that I was determined, he put himself under my direction, being very careful to warn me that he could not be responsible for the failure that must ensue.
He then, with carts, took away the top, consisting of clay, sand, and other rubbish, four feet deep of the entire surface of my lot; he then placed all over the bottom, stones of all sizes, thrown in carelessly, but as level as possible, about twenty inches deep. Over these he put quite small stones, and the screenings of building sand, filling up all the holes, and cov-ering over the larger stones about she inches. The remaining part was then filled with a fine sandy loam, every load of which I inspected personally. While this was being done, a crowd of curious people watched our proceedings, and all, (with no exception,) pronounced it worse than useless - bad in every respect, and calculated to kill the plants by drouth in summer.
I confess I was rather shaken in my determination, when some of my friends, amateur horticulturists and gardeners, in whom I place great confidence, gave their opinions, that " having the free use of the Croton water, I might keep my plants alive through the hot weather;" but as I had some reasons I thought good, for commencing, I concluded to carry it through, and I laughingly told them, that I hoped to avoid the very evils they feared, by thus draining the soil.
The ground was finished in August,. I860; it laid until the bouse was completed, March, 1851, when I commenced planting. My plants were selected mostly from the stock of the gardeners in the vicinity. During March and April, I planted about six hundred trees and shrubs; a great proportion of them were roses - imported French grafted stocks - (but many were on their own roots.) I used no other manure during the season, than a bag of guano, put in with a trowel some distance from the roots, after the plants were in full foliage. I lost, in all, not over six plants - and although it was the first season, I never saw such a growth of wood and such succession of flowers, either in city or country. Your friend, Dr. A. G. Hull, visited my garden den one day in July, and appeared much pleased, as I explained to him the cause of such growth and flowers, which he declared he had never before seen. You will recollect the excessive drouth we had last fall, enough to try my experiment thoroughly in that way. The result was in this respect, too, perfectly successful, more than I had ever hoped. I used the Croton water much less than my neighbors, whose soil was dry as powder, and could not absorb the showers that so seldom came, while mine drank easily all the rain or water, as it fell.
It percolated though the earth, down among the stones, and as the hot sun heated the surface during the day, it returned at night in vapor through the soil, re-freshing the roots of the plants. This action was so perfect, that at the dryest time you might have found moisture in my soil, at the depth of two inches. The old gardeners now consider me a master in horticulture, and all admit the benefit of drainage in summer, which was all I hoped to prove.
I left out all my roses on their own roots, without any covering whatever - such as Devo-niensis, Saffrano, Triumph de Luxumburgh, etc, and at this time they appear in good order, though the winter has been far from a mild one. I do not hope to save all these; but if a fair pro portion should be saved, I shall be satisfied that I have proved that effectual drainage will supply plants with moisture in summer, and take away the surplus from the roots in winter - thereby giving them a chance to live through heat and cold - when without it they might die. W. W. Livermore. New-York, March 3, '52.
Too valuable an article to be tucked away into the double columns of the further end of the book. This experiment is a perfect one of the kind, and an illustration of the benefits of thorough draining that must convince the most unbelieving in its efficacy. Where we have so great a field for the selection of soils at low prices for agriculture, as in this country - much of which is of such composition that it needs no such process to render it productive - its necessity is not so apparent; but wherever soil is occupied, and at any price over fifty dollars an acre, which needs draining, and it can be done for twenty-five or thirty dollars additional expense to the acre, there can be no question of its economy.
For gardening purposes, on heavy soils, it is almost indispensible. To be sure, there are few pieces of land that will warrant the expense of Mr. Livermore's lot, under his process; yet even that, on so small premises, will pay. Field crops have been doubled by the ordinary simple process of under-draining alone; and not only doubled, but the crops made certain in all seasons. Drain tile is now getting so plenty and cheap, that good lands can well afford it, and poor lands of the proper kind, and well situated, can be made to pay richly for the improvement. Jeffreys.